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A Quarterly Newsletter by Lahary Pittman for Collectors, Artists & Curators
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Womenʹs History Month
For this edition of Auction & Exhibition I am saluting the women of the world and their contributions. And while those contributions span leadership and innovation in countless fields such as science, social reform, politics, aviation etc., the focus here of course is art. Auction & Exhibition is pleased to present two captivatingwomenartists from America and Sweden. American Bonnie Rothchildis a midcareer sculptor that resides in New York City. Josefin Rasmusonis Swedish and is an emerging artist living in Stockholm that works in drawings, sound and installations.
(L) La Speranza, 2008, Terracotta,19 1/4" h x 13 1/2" w x 7" d- (R) Soliloquy, 2010, Terracotta, 21" h x 7 1/2" w x 51/2" d All rights reserved, Bonnie Rothchild
In 2007 Bonnie Rothchild won first prize in the Pen and Brush 21st Annual Exhibition. That year she was also a winner for Best in Sculpture at the Manhattan Arts International 24th Anniversary show. Ms. Rothchildʹs work was recently featured in the publication Gallery& Studio. More of her work, and contact info, can be found at www.bonnierothchild.com
Auction & Exhibition: In your artist statement you reveal that your art evolves from renewal and rebirth. In the most recent
issue of Gallery & Studio, Marie R. Pagano reviewed the November 2010 Broome Street Gallery exhibition, which you showed in, and referred to your sculpture titled ʺIntertwinedʺ as ʺ..a semi abstract, sensually simplified female figure with a mysterious womblike opening oddly located in itʹs upper torso, pregnant with an egg shaped inner formʺ. When did you first recognize these conceptsand was there any specific experience or event in your earlier life that initiated their influence?
Bonnie Rothchild: I believe we are constantly growing and renewing ourselves. Things happen in life that influence us and we
have to keep on reevaluating and thus reinventing ourselves—like a rebirth. I have had many losses in life, starting in my teens when my mother passed away. I think all this loss has had a profound effect on my life and my sculptures. Much of my past work involves figures emerging from trees or involved with trees. I feel trees symbolize growth and change. As the trees continued to grow and the seasons changed so did my sculptural style, giving birth to more simplified structures.
Auction & Exhibition: Can you describe your process of building a sculpture, what materials you tend to use, the tools involved
and how long each stage takesand perhaps most importantly, what are the most serious challenges you face in building, showing and storing your sculptures?
Bonnie Rothchild: For a long time I made figurative sculptures which had a dreamlike impressionistic quality. During the last
few years, in the process of trying to simplify my forms, I’ve been making abstract sculptures. Most of my sculptures are terra cotta. When I begin I have a general idea of what I want to do. But as I start working the clay, on a pole or board using an assortment of wood and metal tools, I allow my subconscious mind to guide me as I add, subtract, push and pull, until my original idea is transformed into something entirely different. As a new shape emerges I flow with it, trying to balance the intuitive with an increase in formal structure. When I’m satisfied with the work at hand and the piece is leather hard, I carefully remove it from the board or pole and hollow it some so that when it has dried thoroughly it will fire evenly in the kiln. After firing, I make repairs as needed. Then the piece and I go through another long process as I add layer after layer of patina and pigment until it looks and feels right to me. Next, the piece needs to be mounted. This whole process can take approximately six months to a year. Afterwards, I sometimes have a mold made so it can then be cast in aqua resin or bronze. Building my work presents challenges. I have to make sure to use the correct structure so the piece does not collapse. I also need to take care that the clay is not too wet or else the piece can fall apart. Another thing is ensuring that it dries properly for firing so it does not explode or break in the kiln. Once it is fired and has a patina on it, I mount it and display it on a shelf in my studio. As far as exhibiting my sculptures, I am in about four to seven shows a year.
Auction & Exhibition: Compared to the historical materials and forms of classical sculpture involving clay, stone, bronze etc.,
contemporary sculpture seems to encompass many nontraditional materials and styles that often are not readily perceived as sculpture by the lay public. What do you think about this shift in context and do you think contemporary manifestations of the medium will eventually overshadow the prevalence of classical sculpture or the volume of itʹs ongoing production?
Bonnie Rothchild: There is a place for all types of sculptural styles in this world. Given the nature of society, with all its rapid
technological advances, one would expect new things to evolve that some people perceive as art and others don’t. However, there is something pure about classical sculpture and I don’t think it will ever totally go out of style. If you look below the surface, in a sense these new styles have really evolved from the classics.
Auction & Exhibition: You clearly possess an important individual style that easily distinguishes your work from others. As a
midcareer artist youʹre very acquainted with a range of 20th century sculptors. If you were to offer your opinion of the most important 20th century female sculptoras well as male sculptorwho would they be and why?
Bonnie Rothchild: A wonderful sculptor was Louise Bourgeois. She was among the first sculptors to experiment with alternate
materials such as latex and synthetic resin. For her time, she dealt with taboos and sexual themes with an unusual directness. Kiki Smith is another influential sculptor I admire. She draws on mythology, fairy tales, dreams and history, creating fantastic poetic arrangements that show the relationship between humankind, nature and the cosmos. A sculptor who has particularly influenced me is Bruno Lucchesi. He is a representational sculptor who gives his work a magical quality that appears to emanate from his heart. In 2005 I was fortunate enough to take a workshop with him in Scottsdale, Arizona. During the workshop I literally got stuck when trying to sculpt a figure from a live model. I just could not sculpt and he expressed concern. But when I showed him photos of my sculptures his face lit up and he told me: “You are good. Do your own thing.” He recognized that I was extremely imaginative and needed to be true to myself and sculpt from what I felt from the “inside out.” At that time I was doing dreamlike figurative sculpture—kind of a“magical realism.” There have been and still are many wonderful and influential sculptors in the world, both men and women. I particularly admire the works of Henry Moore. I agree with what he said about the monumental sense of a piece. He believed that no matter how small it was, when enlarged it would not lose its integrity—It would still be correct. It was as if the detail was subservient to its size; it was the innate vision of the artist that mattered most. He said that all great sculpture had this quality. There are many other sculptors who have influenced me. In my life I have seen and absorbed the work of many sculptors past and present. When I am making a sculpture I sometimes can recognize their influence in my work even though I do not intentionally try to emulate any of them.
Auction & Exhibition: As someone that was born and raised in New York, youʹve mentioned how deeply moved you were early
on by Greek and Roman sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum. You also admit being influenced by the art and culture of the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa and Italy. This would seem to give you an international perspective. Numerous artists, art educators and art writers sometimes note observable differences between contemporary American and European artists. Do you find there are certain trends or mindsets that differ in the attitude or approach between European & American artists?
Bonnie Rothchild: I believe that in general, the difference between European and American contemporary artists is how their
cultures affect how they approach their art. However, with the advent of the Internet the world has gotten a lot smaller and it really doesn’t seem to matter that much what culture you are from in terms of making art. I did speak with a European gallery owner who claims that Europeans are more financially supportive of their artists than we are in this country and this allows their artists more time to be creative without having to worry about making money. But when I am in Europe I don’t usually visit contemporary art exhibitions. When I was a child I didn’t realize how moved I was by the Greek and Roman sculptures but thinking back, I had a sense of feeling safe among them. When I visited the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Africa, just being there was like being involved in art—I was enamored by the colors of the sky, trees, rocks and the sea; the beauty and movements of the people. When I was in Zimbabwe in the early 1990’s, I was very impressed with the wood and stone carvers. Their work was beautifully and simply formed. I am very fortunate to have had all these wonderful experiences. They have greatly influenced the way I work.
Auction & Exhibition: When we consider specific achievements by women artists in the last 20 years, such as a number of
women having won the Turner prize since 1993 (including 2010) or the Guggenheim Museumʹs First Annual Arts Awards in 2009 where both ‘artist of the year’ & ’best curator’ were awarded to women, as well as seemingly increased feature reporting about women in major art magazines; where are we now in the age old discussion of art and the women who make it?
Bonnie Rothchild: For centuries women’s art had been ignored. In fact, five and six hundred years ago much of the work by
female artists was signed by men. With the advent of the feminist movement in the 1970s women found more of a voice and recognition in the world of art. Women like Judy Chicago helped make women’s art more visible. Her multiartist project “The Dinner Party” honored 999 women who had been forgotten. Another woman who impacted women and art was Miriam Shapiro. But even today, with women winning the Turner prize, female artists for the most part tend to be ignored and unrepresented in major art galleries, collections and exhibitions.
(L) Untitled Stairway in the Metro #1, 2010, Blue and Black Ballpoint Pen on paper, 50x50 cm. - (R) Reveries #1 Amsterdam CS, 2010, Blue and Black Ballpoint Pen on paper, 33x46 cm
All rights reserved, Josefin Rasmuson
Josefin Rasmuson graduated in 2010 from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (Amsterdam). She has recently exhibited at the Black Box Gallery (Amsterdam, Sept 2010), and The Circle Gallery/ Natuurtalent (Amsterdam, NovDec 2010). More of her work, and contact info, can be found at josefinrasmuson.org
Auction & Exhibition: Although you are an emerging artist that completed the academie last year in Amsterdam, youʹve
managed to exhibit frequently before that, including a solo exhibition at The Hague. In light of the fact that you also attended two art schools in Stockholm before that, to what degree were your thematic concepts shaped by cultural differences compared to your own intuition and sense of self?
Josefin Rasmuson: I have lived in Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and technically speaking, these countries are all part of
Europe but there are also big differences. The art schools and art making have been part of the larger experience of living and surviving in another country. For me this has been a continuous process of destruction and reconstruction. As if I had to loose part of my identity to incorporate the identity of the new place. What I think of as self and person have changed over these years. The idea of self, identity, is often attached to some specific things like age, nationality, gender, religion, profession etc. These things serve an easy answer to the questionʺwho am Iʺ. By moving to a place where you donʹt know anybody and you donʹt speak the language you initially find yourself detached from these external references. Sometimes that is frightening and sometimes it is liberating. In relation to the thematics that I deal with in my work, it is impossible to know exactly where and what is the source, but of course my own experience of exclusion; being the ʺotherʺ, permanently in a state of transition has been quite important.
Auction & Exhibition: Drawing has constituted the underlying study for so many other artistic mediums throughout history, yet
is often relegated to secondary importance. Ironically, now new art trends seem to be relegating paintings themselves as secondary to installations, video art and conceptual art. Nonetheless, events such as Le Salon Du Dessin Contemporain (now called ʺDrawing Now Parisʺ) draws 80 galleries from throughout Europe reminding us that artists, collectors and dealers continue to coalesce around drawing as a medium deserving equal importance in it’s own right. Your drawings seem to exude this sense of importance, such as your Waiting/Space and Reveries series, as well as Elevator drawings. As I became familiar with these smaller works I was struck with how large they were in significancesimilar to Sebastiao Salgado and his epic Migrations photographs. Except the epic mood of your works seem to reflect an internalized, uniformly somber, sullen & saddened urban society without public self awareness. Was the importance& inspiration to do these drawings a personal means of uplifting yourself from this mindset of the massesor was it to motivate public recognition of these drone syndromes in order to alter society?
Josefin Rasmuson: I donʹt feel any need to uplift myself from the masses, but of course, as an artist I also hold the role of the
observer. I am therefore to some degree separated from my subject matter (at least partially and in my own mind). In that way, and in relation to what I have said earlier about being the ʺotherʺ; I think these works are also an act of appropriation of the space and the moment. As I see it, alienation is built into the architecture of these locations; metros, bus stops, elevators. Its like the walls, and the floors and the benches and every surface and curve is made to support the transitional character, to allow the movements of the masses to go on undisturbed. When you actually stop and look, these places can appear strangely unfamiliar, as if you had never actually been there before. I think these contrasts are what draws my attention; crowded and empty, normal but unknown, and we, present but absent at the same time. Its definitely worth reflecting on in terms of how we want to build our cities and how the cities that we build will affect us in return.
Auction & Exhibition: How do you prepare for most drawings; what are your favorite tools& papers, and what duration of time
does it take for you to complete small drawings compared to large scale drawings such as your color elevator piece?
Josefin Rasmuson:I usually work a lot with photographs, and actually photography is becoming more and more important as a
support to my work. If I draw without a model or photographic source I work from ideas of what something looks like; what does a sitting person look like, what does this type of space look like, what is the angle of light if the window is here? It builds on a generalization and simplification which becomes visible in the work. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it isnʹt. Personally I am inclined to look for the unseen, the inbetween other things. This means also in between stereotypes. In photographs there are a
scope of details that make the image specific, not generalized. Another benefit with using photographs especially those that have been casually taken, or with the purpose of documenting something entirely different is that I can rely on coincidence to make some choices for me. I often find that such coincidental material can make the work stronger. Timewise the ballpoint pen drawings are quite consuming. The work Untitled stairway in the metro #1 took me over two weeks to accomplish, working every day, including the weekends, for about 1011 hours. It is the monotony and intensity of making a work like this that makes two weeks a lot. The work is only 50x50cm! Somehow though, the investment of time and labour can be very important for a work to become an object of art. With the Elevator, this quality was not as important, since the work was site specific and nonpermanent. In this way the situation determines the material, size and presentation. Because of the medium of the ballpoint pen I have ended up working in smaller scales but when I am done with the series ʺUntitled stairway in the metroʺ I intend to experiment with another material, possibly oil, with the purpose of making a series of larger works.
Auction & Exhibition: When I met you in London and observed the work you were hanging I noticed that (like most Europeans)
you were conversing with different cadre’s of persons in a number of languages. How many languages do you speakand does being multilingual afford you any special advantages in conceiving and processing your subject matter and artmaking?
Josefin Rasmuson:I speak three languages fluently; Spanish, English, Swedish. Apart from that I read and converse in Dutch,
and I can manage in French. Had I not become an artist I would probably have done something with languages, and still some part of me wants to go deeper into that. However, the most apparent advantage with knowing languages is that I can communicate with a lot of people, and therefore get a better understanding of the cultural differences that lay underneath their values and choices. But it goes further than that. A language is not only the way a person will formulate their thoughts but also the structure within which these thoughts will take form. There are things that you can say and think in Spanish which just does not come out the same in English, and words and concepts in Swedish that are perfectly untranslatable to Dutch. In this way I think a language can be both restricting and liberating, and knowing more languages can allow you a wider perspective. Beyond this, and with risk of appearing a bit counterconsensus, I am not certain that knowing more languages is an advantage for me as an artist. I am not talking for artists in general, but for me personally. As I said previously, I am often seeking the inbetween of something in my work. This goes for language as well. Words are obviously crucial to communication and understanding, but as I see it a word can be equally obscuring as clarifying. Take love for example. The content of that word is extremely defined and still completely obscure. I have learned to associate a specific feeling to this word but there is so much about that feeling and relation that doesnʹt seem to fit into the definition. In art I usually find that what is inbetween the words, that is, what they donʹt say, is more interesting than what they actually do say. And to do that to capture what is inbetween words and definitions in art it is as if language sometimes needs to be avoided until afterwards. But still, I believe that my love for languages and my attempt to avoid sometimes them are related. It comes down to an attempt to reconceptualize, for which previous concepts, and perhaps conceptualization as such, sometimes have to be put aside for a while.
Auction & Exhibition: On your website I was quite taken with your ʺElevatorʺ essay because in addition to the sense of
cramped, micromanaged, public movement mentioned here earlier – you also have a unique means of perfectly replicating artificial light inside the elevator. How do you think this work relates, stylistically and thematically, to your other works? Will we see more of this style utilized in your evolving thematic drive?
Josefin Rasmuson:Well, one can say that these works have the same subjectmatter, but that they have different approaches.
Central to all of my recent work is the non personal space and the relations evolving in this space. It is this contradiction that becomes the focal point; Waiting/ Space, Reveries and Untitled stairway in the metro focusing primarily on the space whilst people are secondary. In the Elevator works it is the people that are in focus and the space is merely suggested through their clothing and position. By completely removing the background from the image (the drawings are made on plexiglass) I wanted to place the figures in the space in which they are presented. I want them to mirror the viewer by their normality and subtle gestures. This was also one of the reasons why I worked with humansize figures in the actual elevator. I wanted them to have a presence in the space, as something which was also there, next to the actual users.
Especially the smaller works in this series are examples of how I use photographs to render very subtle details, a glance, a shift of a shoulder. It is such details that carry the tension through the picture; personal and non personal, closeness and distance. Here it is again the unspoken, inbetween quality that come to surface. A work that inspired me greatly was "Lift" by Marc Isaacs. I also watched the elevatortrailer to "The Shining" and went up and down elevators over the whole of Amsterdam. I found it quite interesting that I never got over my own feeling of uncomfortablity in these places. On the contrary, I simply became hyper aware of the presence of myself and others, our smells, sounds and silences. I believe there will be more work with this theme and aesthetics. I mean, this work exists somewhere between the work "Secret Episodes", which is a spacespecific sound installation, and the ballpoint pen drawings that are more "objects". Thematically, these works are all strongly related but they require different mindsets and I usually end up working in one way or another during a period of time.
Auction & Exhibition: Only recently have I come to understand that you also create sound installations as part of your
conceptual art. Last year you installed a sitespecific exhibit in Amsterdam called Heated Bench in a Cold Church (2010) as part of your "Secret Episodes" work. As described on your site, "the visitors were invited to sit down on a heated bench and listen to a series of soundnarratives on headphones. The narratives were slightly pornographic and described situations that had possibly happened or could be happening in the church. The visitors could project these narratives on other visitors, but were also projected upon themselves as the narrative described scenes happening on the bench". By what means were you able to give visitors the ability to project these narratives?
Josefin Rasmuson:Well, the principle is to insert extra information into a situation with the purpose of changing how the
situation appears to the person receiving the information. It sounds more complicated than what it is. In this case it was made so that the narratives involved very loosely defined characters for example "a man in his forties", "the tourist couple" or "the woman on the bench" so that the likelihood that a person fitting the description would be in the church was quite high. Suddenly someone would walk by who fitted the description, or someone would sit on the bench and look just like the woman sitting on the bench in one of the narratives. This was not meant as a deception, but as a possible interpretation that would for a moment interfere with how the listener viewed themselves and the other visitors of the church. In this way it is concentrated more on the character of relations, the unspoken looks and touches and moments that occur between people. This was of course meant to contrast with the church and the cold (the exhibition was in the middle of January) and the fact that this church happens to be in the center of the Red Light District of Amsterdam. But this work was funny like that; like a warm and sudden, unexpected gift that made you blush. There were plans for a similar work involving a public toilet, but I had too much work and I never got around to it. Perhaps I ought to; its the kind of playful, immediate work that you can think back on and laugh.
Auction & Exhibition: As you know, this issue of "Auction & Exhibition" is in honor of what Americanʹs recognize as "Women’s
History Month". Do women in Europe share the same concerns of American women (at least historically speaking) of a lack of recognition for modern achievements?
Josefin Rasmuson:There is the 8th March International Womens Day but I donʹt think there is anything like a "Womenʹs History
Month". Women in Europe are a very diverse group of people, that I canʹt speak of or for as such. The differences are huge between different countries and within countries. Also, there is often a large difference between public policy and what is actually going on. In general I think there are womensgroups and feminists and people all over Europe who recognize the fact that women have been under represented in the history books, together with other "minorities" or "exceptions". In the same way there are people raising questions of representation in government or the conditions of work i.e. salaries or maternity/ paternity leave, or abortion rights. On the 8th of March a little bit of this struggle becomes visible in the media. It is however impossible to generalize this progress, there are too many things that differ, and I donʹt know enough about it to make relevant comparisons. Personally I am primarily worried that the achievements that have granted us the autonomy we have today in the Western World will be forgotten, US and Europe alike, and that we will lose the rights that previous generations have fought hard for. And there is still much to be done.
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